Sarah Deel’s Finding My Teaching Voice reminds me of my own teaching experience. I had a hard time to find my own teaching style until I read the book The Courage to Teach by Palmer mentioned in Deel’s article. This book inspired me to teach with respect to my own voice, to honor the nature of my true self. I decided to write something about my experience as an international teacher in the USA.
I emphasize international teacher because that is how I see myself. I was shocked the first time a Virginia Tech professor in my department recommended me to teach. It was an honor to have the opportunity, but at the same time I felt quite upset because I am from a non-English speaking country and experienced a completely different learning and training system.
The first few days of my class were awful. I was afraid that the students wouldn’t respect me because I am merely a graduate student, not a professor. What’s more, I was mimicking the professor who previously taught this class. I tried to memorize and reiterate what he said when he taught. It was more like presentation, rather than teaching. In that first week’s class, I felt that I would lose my students if I did not improve my teaching.
I went to visit and observed other professors’ classes and tried to learn from them. Also, I read several books about college teaching and discussed teaching with my GTS cohort. Then I read Palmer’s book, which inspired me to be myself and to be honest about who I am. Later in the class I talked with my students about my accent and encouraged them to correct me or slow me down if I was not speaking clearly. I also began to focus more on delivering my own understanding of the subject rather than mimicking others. After this, I felt relaxed and had extra energy to motivate learning in class. In the end, the class went well. The tips I share below really helped me a lot in my teaching. You may also find them useful, especially if you are an international teacher as well.
- Speak Slowly. Most international teachers will have an accent to which students need time to adjust. Speaking slowly during the class helps them to understand the content, especially when you are covering the new concept or key idea.
- Use more words than equations. Due to different education systems, some math equations, which seem intuitive to international teachers, may not be obvious to the students. Therefore try to use more examples, graphs or tables to illustrate the idea.
- Less is more. “Don’t put too many ornaments on the Christmas tree.” This is a quote from Dr. Michael Ellerbrock, who won several teaching awards at VT. Don’t try to cover too much. Students will end up only remembering a few of them. Find one or two key concepts you want to cover, and then keep emphasizing this content throughout the class.
As a teacher coming from a different cultural and educational background, I am aware that there are more things I need to think about in teaching. That is why I am taking Contemporary Pedagogy. I am sure that most of you (my readers) once sat in an international teacher’s class as a student. What was your learning experience with that teacher? How do you think of their teaching? Is there anything else about them I did not mention in this blog, that you feel is important? You are more than welcome to comment on your experience to help me (and other international teachers) to improve and to help our future students to learn.